The Night of the Murdered Poets

By August 12, 2018Poetry, Political

It sounds like the plot to a fantastic movie doesn’t it? Sadly the truth is a stain on history and yet another blot that fascism has left on our past.

On 12th August 1952, the execution of thirteen Soviet Jews in the Lubyanka Prison in Moscow in the then Soviet Union was carried out, the charges? Counterrevolutionary crimes and organised action meant to topple, undermine, or weaken the Soviet Union, whatever that means.

The arrests of these men and women, who included five Yiddish writers who were all part of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, took place on September 1948 and June 1949, the men were then held for three years where they were tortured, beaten and kept in isolation before being formally charged.

The investigation claimed to have uncovered evidence that the accused had used the Jewish Anti-Fascism Committee as a means of spying and promoting anti-government sentiment. The indictment stated that the accused had been enemies of the government and that the Jewish Anti-Fascism Committee served as an international network for communicating anti-Soviet views. Overemphasis on exchanges of innocuous information between the Jewish Anti-Fascism Committee leadership and Jews in other countries, particularly Jewish American journalists solidified accusations of espionage and a formal request for Crimea to become the new Jewish homeland was used as evidence supporting the indictment.

These events happened a little after World War II and the death of these, mainly Jewish, men are overshadowed in history, but we think they are worth remembering. Below is a list of all the accused:

Peretz Markish (1895-1952), Yiddish Poet, co-founder of the School of Writers.
David Hofstein (1899-1952), Yiddish poet.
Itzik Feffer (1900-1952), Yiddish poet.
Leib Kvitki (1890-1952), Yiddish poet and children’s author.
David Bergelson (1884-1952), distinguished novelist.
Boris Shimeliovich (1892-1952) Medical Director
Solomon Lozovsky (1878-1952) Director of Soviet Information Bureau
Benjamin Zuskin (1899-1952), assistant at Moscow State Jewish Theatre
Joseph Yuzefovich (1890-1952), researcher at the Institute of History
Leon Talmy (1893-1952), translator, former member of the Communist Party USA
Ilya Vatenberg (1897-1952), translator and newspaper editor
Chaika Vatenburg-Ostrovskaya (1901-1952), wife of Ilya, translator
Emilia Teumin (1905-1952), deputy editor of the Diplomatic Dictionary
Solomon Bregman (1895-1953) Deputy Commissar of Foreign Affairs (died in prison)
Lina Stern (1875-1968), biochemist and humanist, the only survivor of the 15 accused.

After the trial, Stalin continued his oppression of Jews with the Doctor’s Plot, an anti-Semitic campaign that saw Jewish doctors accused of trying to assassinate Soviet leaders. After Stalin’s death the plot was renounced and questions were asked of the Jewish Poets defendants when it became clear that most of the testimony was a result of torture and coercion. Soon after the proceedings were re-examined and it was found that there was “no substance to the charges” against the defendants and the case was closed. Sadly by then, the defendants were all dead.

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